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Giving a certain population of immune cells a ‘taste’ of tuberculosis (TB) may help protect the body against the disease, suggests a study of macaque monkeys published in the 22 March issue of Science.

The findings may aid TB vaccine research, since TB immunity in humans is not well understood.

Yun Shen of Harvard Medical School, United States and colleagues found that a group of T cells, called Vã2Vä+, proliferated rapidly in the macaques’ bloodstream when the animals were inoculated with BCG, a relatively harmless mycobacterium currently used as a vaccine for TB.

When the monkeys were infected a second time, the cells responded even more vigorously, activating the so-called “memory T cells” that stay on guard for life against a certain pathogen.

Infecting BCG-vaccinated monkeys with the tuberculosis mycobacterium had a similar effect, and seemed to help the monkeys survive their infections, according to the authors.

Reference: Science 295, 2255 (2002)

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